Art at Auction in 17th Century Amsterdam

By John Michael Montias | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 18
Art Collectors and Painters III:
Marten van den Broeck and Rembrandt’s
Losses at Sea

When Rembrandt, in July 1656, applied to the High Court in The Hague for permission to assign his remaining assets to his creditors to obtain relief from their demands (cessio bonorum), he cited as the reason for his financial difficulties “losses suffered in business, as well as damages and losses at sea”.636 These alleged “losses at sea” have generally been ignored in the Rembrandt literature, presumably because they could not be connected with any known facts in the artist’s life.637 In this chapter, I develop a conjecture regarding the putative participation of Rembrandt in the ill-fated shipping ventures of the auction buyer Marten van den Broeck.

Marten van den Broeck, regardless of any direct connection with Rembrandt, holds an important place in the study of the artist’s patronage because he owned five paintings by Rembrandt in 1647, including the first self-portrait that has been found in any contemporary inventory. The inventory drawn up after his bankruptcy in September 1650 contained many paintings, all without attribution, some of which, I will argue, were works that may have been by Rembrandt or are more likely to have come out of his atelier. (The works of art in his insolvent inventory are listed in the Appendix to this Chapter.)

Marten van den Broeck, born around the turn of the 17th century, was the son of Gregorius van den Broeck I and of Catherina Soolmans. His mother was the sister of Isaack Soolmans, who bought prints by Dürer along with Rembrandt in the Gommer Spranger sale of 1638. Soon after Isaack’s son, Marten Soolmans, born in 1615, married Oopje Coppit in 1634, the couple had their portraits painted by Rembrandt (now in the Rothschild collection). The portrait of Marten van den Broeck’s cousin is the only explicit connection with Rembrandt. The rest is based on circumstantial evidence.

Marten van den Broeck’s known purchases at auction were limited to the Jan Basse sale of 10 March 1637, where he bought 18 lots for a total of 42 f 12 st. Most of the lots were sheaves of untitled and unattributed prints (12 lots for 21 f 19 st.), ranging in price from 9 stuivers to an exceptional 10 f 5 st. In addition, he bought a drawing for 6 f 10 st., two inexpensive portraits, for 1 f 8 st. and 2 f 4 st., a painting of Adam and Eve for 4 f.638 two little untitled paintings for 1 f 6 st., and one little painting, also untitled, for 5 f 5 st. Beside a certain taste for works on paper, there is little we can infer

-180-

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